The London Encyclopedia

Nearly every Regency romance author, or, as a matter of fact, any Regency romance reader, may want to have a copy of The London Encyclopedia in their library. This large, single volume book is one of the most concise, and perhaps the richest source, on literally thousands of aspects of the history of the British capital city. London is an ancient city, as there is ample evidence that there were human settlements in the area even in prehistoric times. There is no doubt it was a thriving metropolis by the turn of the nineteenth century, and right through the Regency. It has long been a popular setting for romances set in our favorite decade. The London Encyclopedia is a treasure trove of information on many wonderful and fascinating places in the city.

Some of the more useful aspects of The London Encyclopedia . . .

The London Encyclopedia was the brain-child of the Yorkshire-born, London book-seller, Benjamin Weinreb. He had worked in the book trade in London, one way or another, since he had traveled there when he was eighteen years old. Weinreb opened his own book dealing business after World War II. He specialized in books on architecture, but had been interested in the history of London since his arrival in the city in the early 1930s. He sold his entire stock of books in 1968, and soon thereafter, he began compiling an encyclopedia of the history of his favorite city. Some years later, he was joined in his efforts by the noted historian, Christopher Hibbert. In 1983, the pair published the first edition of The London Encyclopedia. This new encyclopedia was published by Macmillan, and ran to over 1,000 pages, with over 5,000 different entries.

The entries in the main portion of the encyclopedia were devoted to the many places and subjects related to the history of the metropolis, and those entries were listed in alphabetical order. From that first edition, those alphabetical listings were by the full, and generally accepted name, of the location or subject. For example, the headquarters of the Surrey County Cricket club, the "Oval Cricket Ground," is listed by that commonly known name. However, the cricket club and other related entities are given as cross-references in the body of the main entry text, noted by the use of Small Capitals. In those instances where another name is known, that is also listed, with a cross-reference given to the main entry. Most entries have at least one cross-reference included in the body of the entry, while many others can have a dozen or more, thus enabling the reader to more fully understand the connections between these various places. and the people who occupied them.

Another useful feature of this encyclopedia is that Weinreb and Hibbert used different fonts to distinguish between those places which were still in existence and those that had been lost by the time of publication. The heading of articles on existing places were printed in a bold serif font. But the headings of articles for places which have been demolished, or otherwise lost, were printed in a Gothic-style font. Clearly, they felt the loss of these places, based on their description of this feature in the front matter of the book:

Names of places and buildings which have been swept away and exist only in historical records and books of reference, . . . are appropriately printed in funereal gothic.

The bulk of the entries in The London Encyclopedia are places in the city, or places that once existed in the city. In addition, certain types of places, such as Burial Grounds, City Livery Companies, Gardens, and outdoor Statues are listed, by type, in alphabetical order. In the few instances where one of these items merits a separate entry, by name, that is also noted. There are also several entries devoted to special topics which had a significant impact on the history of the metropolis, such as Ballooning, Executions, Regiments, Street Cries, Transport, and Water Supply. Each of these entries provides a concise survey of the history of that discrete topic just for London and its immediate environs.

No individual person is given their own entry in this encyclopedia of London history. But many people are mentioned in thousands of the specific entries. Fortunately, Weinreb and Hibbert have included an "Index of People." In this index, every person mentioned in the text of any of the entries is listed, in alphabetical order, by last name, followed by the page numbers for the entries in which those people are mentioned. Some prominent Londoners have a dozen or more page numbers after their name in the Index for People, because they had an impact on a number of places in the city. A researcher looking into the life of a Londoner will certainly want to glance though the Index of People in The London Encyclopedia during the course of their research.

The Index for People is followed by a second, somewhat larger index, the "General Index." This index lists nearly every topic which is touched upon in the The London Encyclopedia. Again, these entries are listed in alphabetical order, usually the name by which they were most commonly known. Researchers are well advised to check every version of any name of which they are aware on a specific topic, to ensure they do not miss any entries which might be of use to them. Not to mention the fact that browsing through this index can lead researchers to any number of interesting topics in the history of London of which they might not be aware.

For those, like me, who enjoy reading encyclopedia entries, reading through The London Encyclopedia is a real treat. All of the entries have some relation to the history of the city, primarily in relation to places in the city. There are many of them which reveal obscure corners and events which have not made it into more traditional histories of the British capital city. Quite a number of taverns and public houses are listed, by name, often with an anecdote of some interesting event which took place there or close by. And at least a few of those places, or events, might very well serve the purposes of an author writing a romance set in London during the Regency period.

The London Encyclopedia is filled with a wide range of illustrations of various places in the great metropolis. These illustrations range from wood-cuts to engravings to early photographs, many of which I have not seen published anywhere else. In later editions, maps of various sections of the city were also included. Though all of the illustrations are in black and white, they are fairly crisp and clear and all are accompanied with informative captions. The best thing about these illustrations is that they are not photographs of a locale as it appears today. Instead, they depict the local as it appeared at some point in the past, giving us a more realistic image of how those places appeared at the time they were most prominent in the history of London.

The first edition of The London Encyclopedia, published in 1983, met with great success and was hailed as the most comprehensive single volume on the history of London ever published. It was reprinted several times after its initial publication. Ten years later, it was revised and updated. It was again revised and updated, in 1995, and once again in 2008, the same year in which Christopher Hibbert passed away. Benjamin Weinreb had passed away in 1999. Over this period, other historians have come on board to ensure the accuracy of the updates and revisions. The London Encyclopedia retains essentially the same format, organization and font scheme for existing and lost historic places as it had since the first edition. It also retains its two indexes, one just for people and the other a general index. Each index is believed to have about 10,000 entries.

Though The London Encyclopedia is not currently in print, there are many copies available online and in a number of used bookstores in both the UK and the US. Quite a number of these copies are available, in both hardcover and paperback, in good condition, for very reasonable prices. Any Regency author or aficionado who does not own a copy of The London Encyclopedia might want to add a copy to their research library. It is a wonderful resource on the history of the great metropolis, particularly if you have an interest in places which were important, or infamous in London over the course of its history.

Author’s Note:   During the course of researching this article, I discovered that one of the early works on the history of London on which Ben Weinreb based The London Encyclopedia was a two-volume history of the city first published in 1849, Handbook for London, Past and Present, by Peter Cunningham. Fortunately for those who would like to have a copy of that book as well, it has been digitized and is available for download online.

Both volumes of the 1849 edition of the Handbook for London are available for free download, in various file formats, at the Internet Archive. Each volume can be found at the appropriate link below:

Both volumes of the 1849 edition of this book are also available for free download, in .PDF and EPUB file formats, at Google Books. Each volume can be found at the appropriate link below:

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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11 Responses to The London Encyclopedia

  1. Gone on my wishlist, the only one available is the 2010 3rd edition. I have been working from my 1830 copy of Leigh’s London, but it has no illustrations. [and the map has been torn out; fortunately my facsimile 1814 map from ebay arrived the other day.]
    What might be of some interest to you and your other readers is that I am putting together a study of Bath – the stagecoaches to get there, times, stops, inns; the plays at the Theatre Royal; and sundry other entertainments like the galas with fireworks in Sydney Gardens for the King’s Birthday every year [called Sydney Gardens Vauxhall; had Vauxhall become a synonym for pleasure garden, in the same way that we refer to a vacuum cleaner as a hoover, regardless of make?]

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      There are several copies of earlier editions of The London Encyclopedia available online, some for under five pounds, if that helps.

      If you want to add to your research library, a digital copy of the 1818 edition of Leigh’s New Picture of London is available for download at Google Books. You can find it here. There is no map, but there are a couple of illustrations.

      The Bath study sounds both fascinating and very useful. Are you planning to publish it when it is complete?

      I am not sure about the use of the term “Vauxhall.” I know there were a number of pleasure gardens in cities outside of London which included Vauxhall in their name. However, I do no know if Vauxhall had become a widely used generic term for pleasure gardens. Sorry!



      • Oh, many thanks. I can compare if I am uncertain what was when

        I do mean to publish it. It struck me that going through the same research over and over was plain silly, and if I was going to do the work for myself I might as well make it available.

        if there were several including Vauxhall in their name it seems at least as though they were trying to evoke the same idea at least!

        I am working back from 1820 listing every theatre performance. So far I have spent 3 full 12 hour days and have got to 1811. I am tempted to go until midnight tonight and then call it sufficient … unless anyone talks me into going further.

        • Kathryn Kane says:

          You are very ambitious! However, if you are only seeking to cover the Regency period in your Bath research, ending at 1811 fits the period. Going back to 1810 would provide coverage for a full decade, if that suits you better.

          Good Luck with our research, how ever far you go!


          • I found a copy on Abe Books so that’s in the post.
            I said to myself I would work until midnight tonight; I am on 1810 at the moment, so it would make sense. I might throw in the few I have from earlier years. I am hoping to visit Bath in August and take my own photos for the blog site, and eat in the Octagon, which was a chapel in the regency and is now a restaurant. I’ll be posting and including a list of all the people I could find in Milsom Street as well

            • Kathryn Kane says:

              I stopped buying from ABE Books when they were acquired by Amazon. Personally, I have never had any use for Amazon, I think they are a blight on the world. Of course, I know I am in the minority, but that has never bothered me. 🙂

              My favorite site for used books is Biblio. They offer a wide selection and good prices. Plus, they do a lot to support literacy around the world. I am all for that, so I prefer to shop with them.

              I am sure that many people will be looking forward to your blog post on Bath. Though I must admit, I do envy you your trip to Bath, just a little bit. But I do hope you enjoy it!



              • they’re owned by Amazon? I never knew that. But i won’t bite the hand that feeds me, and as an author, Amazon have done very well by me and been very fair about their dealings. As to their employees, I am a believer in industrial action, and the answer to unfair conditions lies in solidarity of the workforce. But I grew up in the Stroppy Sixties and my dad was a staunch union man. I can’t abide ‘snowflakes’.

                It’ll be heaven and hell; I am looking forward to it with great delight, but I am sure I will be sobbing with pain for a couple of weeks after, as mobility is an issue but maybe I’ll get myself a walker. I am NOT going to try to negotiate a train with a folding wheelchair …I’ll lose my temper with someone who asks why I need a wheelchair if I *can* walk and then I’ll be charged with assault with a deadly wheelchair. Besides, you can’t see as much. If Heaven smiles on me and I am a best seller by then, I’ll be shelling out for a rising front lens for my camera.

              • Kathryn Kane says:

                As I said, I know I am in the minority when it comes to Amazon. I am glad, at least, to know they have treated you fairly.

                It would be a pity if you knocked someone off with a wheelchair. Not to mention that many historic places are not exactly accessible to wheelchairs. I think you are right, a walker will probably serve you better. Here in the US they now have folding walkers which also have seat, so one can sit down when necessary. Any chance they have something like that over there? That might help make it less stressful to navigate Bath.


              • That is exactly the sort of walker I was thinking of; my friend has one and it also has a bag in the seat for shoving stuff in. I am not that bothered if it folds or not, though it would be handy. There’s a mobility shop near me so I will go look. I am not looking forward to the hills and wish I could hire a chair and a couple of brawny bearers

              • Kathryn Kane says:

                OOooohhhh!!! An elegant sedan chair carried by a couple of beef-cake hunks! How very 18th-century! 😉

                I do hope you find what you need and can properly enjoy your trip to Bath.


              • Go and take a cold bath, woman! [fan plied to cool the heat]

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